Notes from World Domination Summit 2014

I speak Sunday spoke yesterday at the World Domination Summit in glorious Portland, Oregon. The event started Friday and it’s clear this is a most unusual event: there’s an energy that I’ve only seen a handful of times in the hundreds of events and conferences I’ve been to. It’s always a pleasure to speak to a crowd of 2500 people who are so engaged and willing to give energy back to the stage.

I decided to take notes during the many sessions and that’s the balance of this post.

I noticed even during speaker rehearsal that the crew was having fun and working hard, a magical combo of culture. When the organizers and volunteers are having fun and committed to making something interesting happen, it rubs off on everyone. When you walk into any of their venues the volunteers give you high fives and a big smile, which seemed cheesy at first, but it nudged me, and every attendee, towards being social, friendly and engaged.

The event was founded and led by legendary man of the world Chris Guillebeau and in his opening comments he explained the goal of the entire enterprise (which is now four years old) is to find answers to this question: How do we live a remarkable life in a conventional world? The event tries to answer the questions in different ways and through different activities, but all have three values in play.

  1. Community – connecting with interesting people
  2. Adventure – taking risks and doing new things
  3. Service – making the world a better place

Many of the 2500 attendees are solo entrepreneurs, small business owners, marketers and people with a passion for three goals above. Over 150 people work on putting the WDS event together. Most are volunteers including the core team. And it’s a non commercial gathering – there are no sponsors and nothing is sold other than ideas, and books from speakers.

The event opened by setting a world record for making a Yoga chain. More than 800 people joined in the hot Portland sun.

AJ Jacobs

I’m a fan of Jacob’s work: I read his excellent book The Year of Living Biblically (my review), where he spent a year trying to follow every rule in the bible, which turned out to be far more challenging, and in many cases, impossible than anyone expected.  He talked about this and his other quest books, explaining that he’s  not naturally brave, but he’s forced himself to be and its changed his life. There are three rules he tries to live by.

  1. Be bold
  2. be experimental
  3. be strategic

Jacobs mentioned that in many of his projects he’s learned that “it’s easier to act your way into a new of thinking, than think your way into a new way of acting” – Jerry Sternin (part of his theory of positive deviance). Sometimes you have to force yourself to do new things and only later will your thinking and feelings change.

He studied many historical figures and learned none of them achieved what they became famous for by staying home. They took risks and put themselves out there. Langston Hughes  was working at a hotel, when the famous poet Havel was staying at the hotel. Hughes slipped one of his poems into his room, and it led to his first break as a writer. As Hughes said, “[I] did not let my dream be deferred”. Jacobs had a similar experience when someone volunteered to be his assistant. The bible does condone certain kinds of slavery and Jacbos realized “The closest thing in modern times to slavery is an internship” so he hired him. That assistant would go on to write a successful book of his own.

Jacob’s latest project is about family. He received an email from someone claiming to be his 12th cousin. He learned about Geni, a website that has the largest family tree: 77 million people. He claimed that everyone on earth is 55th cousins or less. He pointed out this is bad news for bigots – when you look at the tree its harder and harder to make distinctions.

He’s trying to organize he largest family reunion in history – there will be a film (and I’d guess a book?) about the event.

Jadah Sellner

She opened by reading a poem she wrote a decade ago that began “I encounter every lesson in life on purpose” It was a personal poem about her life, her loves, overcoming abuse and… much more than I can explain without letting you hear the poem itself. She briefly told the story of the company she runs called  Simple Green Smoothies, (her bio) and offered rules she’s used to turn her at times difficult life around:

  • Say dreams out loud
  • Take imperfect action
  • Let go

She mentioned a research paper about the different systems we have: doing systems and thinking systems, and how we can only use one system at a time. She mentioned the habit many dreamer types have of coming up with a business idea, and a name, and buying a domain name for it, but never doing anything with it (and got most of the audience to admit they’ve done this themselves). She claimed this identifies you as a dreamer  And for every dreamer there is probably a doer out there, who knows how to develop ideas into businesses, but doesn’t have the vision or the idea. She’s interested in how to bring these behaviors and attitudes together.

She offered that dreaming big is hard as adults, and saying dreams out loud can have an unexpected kind of power.

To get to her current successful business shehad two failed businesses first. In July 2012 they started an instagram account for Simple Green Smoothies. It was more of a side project (e.g. an imperfect action). They didn’t even have a website. But just by focusing on one small, easy thing they gained traction and feedback to what they were sharing. It was strictly photos and recipes of smoothies. Only later did they create a website and the skills they learned at the previous businesses helped the third business come together.

She closed with five rules:

  1. Take consistent, ninja-focused action
  2. Stay insanely curious and see what sticks
  3. Court your community
  4. Create hyper-engaged connection
  5. Choose Love over Metrics

It was an inspiring talk – she’s a passionate speaker and the combination of an entrepreneur who’s comfortable reading her poems about her life was a most welcome surprise.

Gavin Aung

Gavin is a cartoonist, known for his website Zenpencis, He used to work at a boring corporate job, and although he had drawn for most of his he’d never tried to make it his full time profession. He noticed the rising web comics market and was aware of how the web had changed opportunities for creatives. He read The Art of Non-Conformity which asked two questions he took seriously:

  • What talent do you have that you can see yourself spending your life doing
  • How can you use that talent to help other people?

As illustrated in one of his most famous cartoons, he decided to quit and cut against the path he was on. He’d been reading biographies of great thinkers and began making illustrations of some of their most famous quotes. He put all his eggs in the basket of his cartooning and its what he’s been able to do full time every since. A book collecting some of his best work will be out this November.

Shannon Galpin

Women in Afghanistan don’t have a voice. In their courts women count as 2/3 of a man. Shannon works in Afghanistan on women’s rights issues. She offered some shocking statistics about womens issues

  • 14 million girls given away as child brides
  • 4 million girls and women sold into slavery
  • 237,868 women are raped or sexually assaulted in the U.S. annually
  • Around 60% of sexual assaults are never reported
  • (She didn’t provided specific sources)

She offered that these numbers are overwhelming and it’s easy to want to look away. But she explained that she, and her sister, are one of these numbers, and even victims an be apathetic, or feel motivated to turn away. It took her many years to find her voice and break her silence about what happened. The culture of silence needs to change.

“I always wondered why somebody doesn’t do something about that. Then I realized I was somebody.” – Lily Tomlin

She shared the story of a young rape victim who had photos taken of her while she was passed out, and that the images were spread widely on social media. There was a hash tag for it. But someone made a counter hashtag: #jadacounterpose. It’s an example of the power of voice. There is always a way to speak up.

She found her voice after visiting women’s prisons in Afghanistan. 50-80% of women in prison are there for morality crimes related to arranged marriages or for being a rape victim. She discovered an outpouring of stories, told faster than the translators could translate. No one had ever cared to hear their story before.

“I get up every morning determined to both change the world and have one hell of a good time. Sometimes this makes planning my day difficult.” – E. B. White

She offered that we have enough non-profits, but we don’t have enough citizens engaging. And two of her interest are mountain biking and street art. She loves how art in public places is unexpected. She uses public art exhibitions to change the stories people were telling and to draw people out.

She showed My body is not a democracy, which inspired her. It helped her decide to want to make art that compelled people to act. The Combat Apathy project, started in 2012, is her manifestation of this idea. It’s a blog, a program of exhibitions and more.

Michael Hyatt

Hyatt is an author and blogger, who writes about marketing and personal branding. He opened with a story about fishing and building model airplanes with his father, and his father would encourage him as he worked. His father changed jobs and became a traveling salesman, and when he was home he developed a drinking problem and became an absent father. Michael began drinking at 14. One day coming home he and his sister found his father passed out on the sidewalk, and was humiliated in front of his friends. He made a silent vow “I will never be like that”, but it was an overcorrection. In 1992 he found himself checked out from his own family.

He called this the drifting life – a life where you think you’re in control but you’re really not. People who are caught up in life’s distractions. People who end up in a destination they would never have chosen. He calls the driven life  the overcorrection. Both are unconscious approaches to life. He offers a third alternative called the designed life.

Later in life he heard his fathers story. He served in the Korean war and was seriously injured and went into a multi-month coma. He returned home, married Michael’s mother and had to find a job, without a high school education. He drifted into a career, making choices for sideways reasons.

He shared stories about his success and failures in life, that center on three questions:

  1. How do I want to be remembered ?
  2. What is important to me?
  3. What single brave decision do I need to make today?

Saki Mafundikwa

He’s from Harre, Zimbabwe and offered that he’s had many different careers, mostly related to design. His general philosophy is “jump and the net will appear”. Most of the beginning of his talk was about his culture. Everyone has a family name and a totem (or animal) name. Some people use their totem as their last name, and add an emphasis to it. He taught the audience several totems.

He worked as a graphic designer out of country and wrote the first book on African typography. He moved back to Zimbabwe in 1998 to open a design school. He called it ZIVA, which means design knowledge (I think that’s what he said). A major challenge is lack of funding. They’ve had to look within, as his travels to America for philanthropic projects to support what he was doing. He choose to build a curriculum based on African values and cultural traditions. They just signed a deal with AutoDesk to introduce 3D design to his country. In a country with an oral tradition, there aren’t as many written stories as there stories that are told, and part of their mission is to produce works that tell those stories.

DAY 2 / Sunday

Gary Hirsch

He started by talking about the monsters he was afraid of as a kid, and how his father told him to draw them. This was part of how he learned to express his feelings and develop the craft of making art. He asked two questions of the audience:

  • What’s one brave thing that you’ve done?
  • What’s one brave thing you want to do but haven’t?

He asked if anyone had a brave thing they wanted to do in front of 3000 people, and about a dozen people raised their hands. He picked a woman who wanted to teach yoga to the audience and she came up on stage. She had everyone simply touch their toes, and then told everyone they are perfect just how they are. Gary then gave everyone in the audience a bravebot, a simple totem for staying brave and helping you do your brave thing.

 Dee Williams

She is known for building and popularizing mico-houses. She talked about needing a shove to get started and that if we knew what to do, we would do it. But why don’t we? Sometimes we lack the courage to follow our heart. She pulled out a red blanket (stolen from Delta airlines), which she put on as a superhero cape. She had the audience practice standing in a power pose of a kind, standing like a superhero.

She grew up on a large lot in the midwest, with little parental supervision and she developed a sense that at any moment she’d become a superhero. Most of her interests were about the outdoors and spending time with animals and nature. She went to work for state agency working on the environment, but she wasn’t happy despite her success. At 40 she had a heart attack and she wears a pacemaker (defibrillator?) today. She was given 1 to 5 years to live and she realized she needed to act now. She decided to build a little house, 84 square feet, at a cost of $10k, and built it herself. She made mistakes at first (she glued herself to the house once) but she slowly learned the skills needed to do build the house she wanted.

Her utilities were $8 a month – her cell phone was her biggest expense. Simply by letting go of her own life she had flexibility and more control over her life. The little house lets her see more of nature: when it’s cold outside, the house is cold. She can hear the neighborhood birds. And most importantly, her life change has made her self-aware and more in touch with who she is.  “A new sense of problem solving evolves by simply showing up differently.”

She started a company to teach other people how to build little houses. And wrote a book about her life, called The Big Tiny. She’s designed what she hopes will be we retirement home, and it’s 54 sq. feet.

The way she measures success now is how she shows up, and how she shows up with her friends.

John Francis

In 1971 he witnessed an oil spill in the San Francisco bay: two oil tankers collided. He spent 17 years walking across America, and taking a vow of silence, in protest. He broke the vow on the anniversary of earth day and he broke his silence with friends and family. He said “Thank you for being here”. He’d learned much about communication from his vow and he realized how you can’t share a message if there’s no one there to receive it. He was surprised by the sound of his own voice, thinking perhaps someone else had said what he was thinking, and he started laughing about it.

“People are part of the environment” Then our first chance to influence the environment is how we treat each other. Human rights and gender equality are part of what influences the environment.

During his walk he decided to start painting. One on day during  his walk he found himself arguing with people about what he was doing, and chose to be silent for a day. He discovered how much more he learned by listening, so he stayed silent for a year. He kept a journal to go with his paintings, and showed photos from his journals. While he was silent he made himself go every day (silently) if he could make a portrait of them. He made powerful connections with people silently.

He arrived in Oregon and studied for a degree at a college in Ashland. They gave him two years of credit for work he had previously done (including 12 credit course in non-verbal communication). After he graduated he was accepted to the University of Montana, and it took him 2 years to get there by walking. He was a TA and taught without using spoken language.

He’d go on to work on environment legislation. He’d never have believed when he first decided to walk that it would lead to so many adventures and opportunities to make a difference and become a respected leader and influencer. His point was that you can’t ever really know what will happen or where things will lead, but having the courage to do something is essential.

Elise Blaha Cripe

She explained she dreaded being asked about what she did. Unlike being a smoothy maker or a sales associate (jobs she has had). They were easy to say, but none were what she wanted to be doing. She already had a blog and was selling things online through it. She wasn’t comfortable explaining it all and it didn’t feel real. She eventually came up with an answer: “I make stuff”.

Her answer has developed into:

  • I am a creative person
  • I design products
  • I sell handmade goods.
  • I teach workshops.
  • I write a great blog.

When she gets stuck on a project, which she often does, she admits she’s not an expert. It’s expected to her that she’ll fail. She considers herself to be an expert at the attempt.

“Great people do things before they are ready” -Amy Poehler

Failure is information. You use it and move forward. She has a one year old daughter and observes this all the time. Her daughter isn’t waiting until she learns how to walk to walk, she’s failing her way into learning.

She does many big projects and she calls them creative challenges. Her first was to decorate a playing card every day for a year. She learned that daily challenges are fun, hard and also boring, but she liked it and she shared he progress on her blog. She made it 10 months when she realized she was over the project. At 26 she decided to do 26 craft projects over 12 months.

For all her work she tries to leave space to grow. There has to be room to adapt. But there you also have to say it aloud and force yourself to confront how it feels when you do. Sharing your idea gets it on other people’s radar, to get an accountability partner.

She tweeted on day about wanting to start a podcast, hoping somehow a “podcast company” would magically respond with everything done for her. But what she did get was a response from a fan with a link to a webinar about starting a podcast. It changed her idea from an abstraction without any steps to a first step, which she took. The podcast launched this year.

She invited all of us to write down the think quietly (on special stickers that were handed out earlier), then write down our bold statement and share it today.

 John Jantsch

I spoke right before John and unfortunately didn’t catch most of his closing talk.  If someone took notes, leave a comment.

Photos from the event here.

32 Responses to “Notes from World Domination Summit 2014”

  1. Kathleen

    Really looking forward to your talk tomorrow, Scott! This is my first WDS, and it’s just blowing me away.

    1. Scott

      Thanks Kathleen – It’s my first time here too.

  2. Kirsten Simmons

    Also looking forward to your talk today! :-)

    Jadah’s #4 was ‘Create hyper-engaged connection’. I particularly liked that her first three rules included ‘Let go’ – I’m in the process of doing that now with my first successful business (fourth attempted) because I’ve realized that I don’t want to spend the rest of my life doing it. This is my third WDS, and it’s really refreshing to see a speaker talking about what to do with all the ideas that inevitably get left behind as your thinking and experience evolves.

  3. Markita @ SweshFit

    Argh! My computer died…otherwise I would have done notes for your talk…loved all the education and insight…yours was the most educational, and really motivating.

  4. Makenzie Chilton

    Scott! Amazing talk today setting out to read your books on the road trip home. Thanks for sharing your creative soul.

  5. Marianne

    Thank you Scott for taking and posting notes of WDS 2014. I was unable to attend this year and this has been wonderful to read. Thanks so much!

  6. AJ Jacobs

    Thanks Scott! Loved hanging out with you and listening to your talk. You are a great storyteller, though as we know that’s a mixed blessing!

  7. Kevin


    Thanks for the notes. Hopefully someone has some for your talk (which was great)!

    Loved your thinking style and your talk–fantastic stuff! Also enjoyed talking to you about cognitive biases out on the street.

    Looking forward to hearing you speak again in the future.

  8. Cheri

    Thank you so much for a fantastic, energizing talk you gave and also for these great notes. I took notes but there were many gaps (it’s hard to take notes while being completely enthralled by a speaker), so I appreciate the thorough summary of each presentation.

  9. Kiki Reef

    Hi, Scott – loved your speech yesterday at WDS. Your delivery was so refreshing. I’m wondering if you could comment a bit more re: your idea of just “finishing a project anyway”, even when it has become more like work. Versus what Elise Blaha Cripe was saying about not being afraid to abandon a project? Thank you again for being there yesterday!

  10. Aron

    Hi Scott. I’m new to your work and to WDS. I really enjoyed your talk. Thanks for telling it like it is and not sugar coating the fact that having great ideas that make us feel warm and fuzzy inside don’t become reality without becoming comfortable with the uncomfortable, putting in the work that looks boring and is actually work, and developing and listening to our own creative voices. Great stuff. Hope to catch you in Seattle some time.

  11. Monet Diamante

    Thanks for taking and sharing so many notes, Scott! It was awesome to hear you speak, as well. I took a few notes and will share what I remember from John’s speech.
    He started by telling a story about advice he gave his kids as they would leave the house when they were younger – the last thing he would say is “Make good choices!” It continued even through college, and occasionally he would send a text “love you, have fun – mgd.” He discussed how we all have choices every single day to make and mentioned a quote by Viktor Frankl – “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space lies our freedom.”
    John shared another impactful quote from Hugh Macleod ( “The only people who can change the world are people who want to. Not everybody does.” He discussed two companies of note: one is a janitorial company whose owner decided to start investing in people and is commited to getting employees out of the janitorial services industry and move them into a career they love through personal and professional development (if anyone knows the name, please reply and let me know!). The second is called The Sky Factory and owned by Bill Witherspoon, which makes every employee part owner and also rotates management around employees, making everyone accountable and giving everyone a voice.
    At the end of the presentation, he commented that since AJ Jacobs started us off with a song on Saturday, he would close with one and sung and played the guitar. On the guitar pic are the words “Make Good Choices”, and everyone in the audience then received one.
    John himself is the founder of Duct Tape Marketing.

  12. Scott McMurren

    Awesome wrap, Scott. Great meeting you briefly outside the theater. Come and see us in Alaska. Oh, btw, I hate it when my inspirational life turns into … you know…work. HAHA.

  13. Bruce

    Scott, thanks for this great summary of the main talks at World Domination Summit 2014. I’m saving up to attend the conference in 2015 and this added fuel to the fire.

    Staying curious is such a great lesson. One way I implement that is to read widely (not just business books). Currently reading a biography of Shakespeare actually.

  14. William Lacey

    Great summary of a great conference – I especially enjoyed Chris G., Michael Hyatt, Jadah Sellner and Elise Blaha Cripe.

    I keep very short notes and this is what I have on John Jantsch:
    John Jantsch
    John told some great stories about business owners he had worked with who made great choices and run great companies. His speech has a lot of parallels with that of Michael Hyatt and the biggest takeaway for me was:

    Make good choices, daily choices.

    True change is lived when tiny change occurs – Leo Tolstoy.



Leave a Reply

* Required